Gregory Ould’s mission to share the warmth of British Columbia began when he walked out of a movie theatre 15 years ago and encountered a person settling in on the sidewalk for the night.
“I asked one question,” Ould said during a recent visit as he grabbed clean, rolled up blankets from the floor of his minivan to donate to the Port Alberni Shelter Society.
” I said, ‘what can I do to help?’ He said ‘I could use a blanket to survive the night.’ It was that statement that floored me.”
That night spurred the formation of Blanket BC: a non-profit organization that collects and distributes blankets and warm clothing to shelter programs and families in need. It also raises awareness of homelessness, poverty and socio-economic issues. Ould, its co-founder and executive director was on Vancouver Island from Feb. 17–21 distributing blankets in several communities. He was accompanied by wife Fumika and daughter Zoe, seven months.
Ould’s co-founder is his son Ben, who was 22 months old when Ould came home that night from the movie theatre. Ould has always involved his children Ben, now 17, and Emma, 13 in his non-profit endeavours.
Ould bought the man on the sidewalk a blanket that first night. In the past 15 years he has developed relationships with linen companies and now re-purposes linens no longer suitable for hospital or airline use into donations for shelters and organizations helping people who live without proper housing. Blanket BC also accepts donations of clean blankets from the public.
“We capture what would normally be thrown out,” he said.
He was given 5,000 toques in November and has distributed them in communities across the province.
A blanket can make all the difference for a person living on the street, said John Douglas from Port Alberni Shelter Society. Douglas and an employee ensured donated blankets and toques were brought into a storeroom at Our Home on Eighth shelter on Eighth Avenue.
“It helps, it gives people one more element that helps them get through the night, and helps them with their level of housing,” Douglas said.
“We’ll distribute them through our different facilities: the sobering assessment centre and the overdose prevention site.”
The shelter society distributes a number of donated products through their sites to people in need, he explained. ” A lot of people can use them, especially during the wintertime.”
The Oulds met Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions at the Bread of Life warming centre on Third Avenue, where they distributed more blankets and toques as well as sleeping bags.
“We’re so incredibly appreciative to have the gift of blankets that we’ve gotten. To a lot of people living on the street in Port Alberni a blanket is all that they have,” Minions said.
“For me and for the average person, it’s something we take for granted. We don’t think about needing to equip ourselves to be warm, we just expect that we will be.”
Ould hopes to return to Vancouver Island again in the fall with more blankets to distribute.